Rita, Sue And Bob Too

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1987). This film is now available on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time. — J.R.

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Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes), two teenagers in the north of England who are the best of friends, lose their virginity to Bob (George Costigan), a suburban husband they sometimes baby-sit for, and before long their amicable three-way relationship is scandalizing the neighbors and members of their families, including Bob’s wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). Shot in and around the town of Bradford in long, loping takes, this sprightly comedy, adapted by Andrea Dunbar from her own play, has some of the energy that one associates with the better exploitation films that used to be produced by Roger Corman. Television director Alan Clarke has a fine time showing how the working-class white and Pakistani communities rub shoulders with the middle class, and although the plot has curious omissions — we never discover, for instance, what Bob does for a living — the spirited acting and direction turn this into something of a lark (1987). (JR)

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Plumbing the Shallows

From the Chicago Reader (September 10, 2004). I think I underrated The Five Obstructions, which I now regard as my probable favorite of von Trier’s films, after having reseen it, remastered,  on the DVD recently released by Kino Lorber. One obvious advantage to seeing it on DVD is that Leth’s 1967 short, The Perfect Human, is included in its entirety as an extra, and even though I find it less interesting than the various “remakes” included in The Five Obstructions, finally getting a chance to see it in its entirety makes the Leth and von Trier feature a lot more satisfying and interesting. — J.R.

The Five Obstructions

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Jorgen Leth and Lars von Trier

With Leth, von Trier, Claus Nissen, Maiken Algren, Daniel Hernandez Rodriguez, Vivian Rosa, Patrick Bauchau, and Alexander Vandernoot.

What the Bleep Do We Know?

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse, and William Arntz

Written by Arntz, Chasse, and Matthew Hoffman

With Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix, John Ross Bowie, Robert Bailey Jr., Barry Newman, and Larry Brandenburg.

When is an “experimental film” not an experimental film? This might seem a niggling matter to the ordinary paying customer, but it’s a serious issue for artists who’ve devoted their careers and lives to experimental filmmaking, knowing that they’ve given up the possibility of a wide audience by doing so.… Read more »

Meet Marcel L’Herbier

Written for Moving Image Source [movingimagesource.us], and posted there, as “Obscure Objects,” on June 19, 2008. — J.R.

He’s hardly a household name anywhere, yet there’sstill a striking discrepancy between the profile of filmmaker Marcel L’Herbier (1890-1979) in France and everywhere else —- almost as if a “not for export” label had been stamped on his forehead. Founder and head of l’IDHEC (l’Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques), the most famous French film school, for over a quarter of a century (1943-1969), as well as onetime director of the Cinémathèque Française (1941-1944), author of hundreds of articles, and a pioneer in French television who produced over 200 documentaries, he’s still better known today as the writer-director of about 50 films, mostly features. Yet none of these is easily obtainable in the U.S.

Probably the best known, formerly on VHS, is La nuit fantastique (Fantastic Night, 1942), a fantasy with Fernand Gravey as an innocent student literally pursuing the woman of his dreams (Micheline Presle) in his dreams. Both whimsical and disturbing —- with a happy ending even more troubling than anything that precedes it —- this nocturnal adventure conveys the dark, cavernous underside of the German occupation almost as pungently as Cocteau’s Orphée did retrospectively, eight years later.… Read more »

That’s Entertainment! III

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1994). — J.R.

This third compilation of clips from MGM musicals — introduced, like its predecessors, by many of the leading performers (June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, and Esther Williams) — has so much pleasure to offer that any purist quibbles seem minor. Not only have writers-directors-producers Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan, who worked as editors on the two previous films, come up with heaps of wonderful and fascinating new material (excluded numbers from Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Cabin in the Sky, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade, and even I Love Melvin); they’ve also introduced a welcome critical note into the proceedings, demonstrating how dubious some of MGM’s aesthetic decisions were and allowing Horne to voice some of her own misgivings about the bigoted policies that limited her activity. Indeed, after Horne introduces her own clips, her terse introduction to an unused Judy Garland number from Annie Get Your Gun, “I’m an Indian Too,” doesn’t have to allude to the number’s racism because in the context she’s established the evidence speaks for itself. The original screen ratios of the films are generally respected — the rule apparently is broken only when the filmmakers are doing a montage or want the dramatic benefits of a full screen even if it means cropping the image.… Read more »

In Claude We Trust [THE ACCOMPANIST]

From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 1994). — J.R.

** THE ACCOMPANIST

(Worth seeing)

Directed by Claude Miller

Written by Miller and Luc Beraud

With Richard Bohringer, Elena Safonova, Romane Bohringer, Samuel Labarthe, Julien Rassam, Nelly Borgeaud, and Claude Rich.

“About six years before the disappearance of Ambrose Small, Ambrose Bierce had disappeared. Newspapers all over the world had made much of the mystery of Ambrose Bierce. But what could the disappearance of one Ambrose, in Texas, have to do with the disappearance of another Ambrose, in Canada? Was somebody collecting Ambroses? There was in these questions an appearance of childishness that attracted my respectful attention.” — Charles Fort, Wild Talents (1932)

The Accompanist can be viewed as a producer’s film, as a writer-director’s film, and as a quintessentially French film. As a producer’s film, it is the latest in a recent cycle of French art movies involving classical musicians and including extended stretches of classical music — in other words, as a spin-off of Tout les matins du monde and Un coeur en hiver, both huge commercial successes, especially in France. As all three films have the same producer, Jean-Louis Livi, they can be regarded as “Livi films” rather than as the discrete expressions of three directors.… Read more »

L’appartement

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 2002). — J.R.

l'appartement
I saw this French mystery thriller, the first feature of writer-director Gilles Mimouni, shortly after its 1996 release, and it left little residue. However, it has Romane Bohringer (Savage Nights), and that’s definitely a plus. Just before leaving Paris for Tokyo, the hero (Vincent Cassel), who’s engaged, thinks he spots an old flame (Monica Bellucci) in a cafe. He becomes obsessed with seeing her again, finds out where she lives, and hides out in her apartment — though he winds up having sex with Bohringer instead. In French with subtitles. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wholesale Memories [TOTAL RECALL]

From the Chicago Reader (June 8, 1990). — J.R.

TOTAL RECALL

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman

With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Mel Johnson Jr., and Marshall Bell.

The most influential SF movies of the past two decades are still very much with us, not only as landmarks but as continuing influences on newer release. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) gave us a whole slew of standbys, from the use of familiar brand names in outer space to a sense of visual design that, as critic Annette Michelson once put it, dissolved the very notion of the “special effect” as it was previously understood. In 1977 Star Wars popularized the notion of SF adventure as continuous action; and Close Encounters of the Third Kind the same year brought a certain pop religiosity (or perhaps one should say pseudoreligiosity) back to the genre, a combination of De Mille and Disney that sanctified Spielberg lighting as a means of bestowing halos on deserving characters, creatures, or locations.

Alien (1979) revitalized the claustrophobic horror-film dynamics of The Thing (1951), internalizing the monstrous and echoing David Cronenberg’s feature of 1975, They Came From Within.… Read more »

Zardoz

From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1993). — J.R.

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Probably John Boorman’s most underrated film — an impossibly ambitious and pretentious but also highly inventive, provocative, and visually striking SF adventure with metaphysical trimmings (1974). Set in a postapocalyptic society in 2293, it stars Sean Connery as a warrior and noble savage with dawning awareness; interestingly enough, the plot in many ways resembles that of Boorman’s best film, Point Blank. (JR)

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Reign Of Terror (aka The Black Book)

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1990), tweaked in April 2014.  This film is finally available now in a DVD that does its visuals (and John Alton’s cinematography) something approaching full justice. One of the juicier actors in this action romp that I should have mentioned is Arnold Moss, seen in the first still below with Robert Cummings. — J.R.

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BlackBook-mirror

Along with James Whale’s The Great Garrick, this 1949 melodrama about the French Revolution, also known as The Black Book, is one of the few period pictures that qualify as film noir; Anthony Mann directed it with sumptuously arty chiaroscuro (cinematography by John Alton). With the two leads (Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl) periodically steering it in the direction of camp, this film is loads of fun. Richard Basehart also stars  (as Maximillian Robespierre, no less); Philip Yordan and Aeneas MacKenzie coscripted. 88 min. (JR)

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Thx 1138: The George Lucas Director’s Cut

From the Chicago Reader (September 10, 2004). — J.R.

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The surprising thing about George Lucas’s first feature (1971), a dystopian SF parable now digitally enhanced and expanded by five minutes, is how arty it seems compared to his later movies: off-center ‘Scope compositions reminiscent of Antonioni, striking white-on-white costumes and sets, a highly inventive sound track by cowriter Walter Murch. Yet the film is just as claustrophobic as Star Wars, and its ideas are equally shopworn, drawing on Orwell, Huxley, Kubrick, and Godard’s Alphaville. A young Robert Duvall plays the title drone, who escapes from a totalitarian society after he and fellow cipher Maggie McOmie discover sex. Lucas’s use of northern California locations is inventive; costar Donald Pleasence is mainly tiresome. R, 88 min. (JR)

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Just Jost

From Film Comment (January-February 1982); reprinted in my book Film: The Front Line 1983. My thanks to Jon Jost himself for furnishing me with the frame grabs from Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Stagefright. — J.R.

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1. “This is a movie, a way to speak. It is bound, like all systems of communication, with conventions. Some of these are arbitrarily imposed, some are imposed by economic or political pressures, some are imposed by the medium itself. Some of these conventions are necessary: They are the commonality through which we are able to speak with one another in this way. But some of these conventions are unnecessary, and not only that, they are damaging to us, they are self-destructive. Yet we are in a bad place to see this. We are in a theater.” Jon Jost, addressing the camera and spectator in Speaking Directly (1974).

2. Despite five substantial and in many ways remarkable features under his belt since 1974, and nineteen shorts since 1963, Jon Jost at 38 is still a long way from becoming even an arcane household name in this country. Not that he makes it easy on anyone. His originality, technical virtuosity, and political sophistication have all tended to work against him by showing the rest of us up-thereby banishing him from most of the restricted genre and market classifications designed to protect us from his scorn, under avant-garde and mainstream umbrellas alike.Read more »

Critical Distance [on CONTEMPT]

 

From the Chicago Reader (September 5, 1997). — J.R.

Contempt

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard

With Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang, Giorgia Moll, and Godard.

Almost exactly 33 years ago, in October 1964, the critical reception of Jean-Luc Godard’s widest American release of his career and his most expensive picture to date was overwhelmingly negative. But now that Contempt, showing this week at the Music Box, is being rereleased as an art film — in a brand-new print that’s three minutes longer — the critical responses have been almost as overwhelmingly positive. It’s tempting to say in explanation that we’re more sophisticated in 1997 than we were in 1964 — that we’ve absorbed or at least caught up with some of Godard’s innovations — but I don’t think this adequately or even correctly accounts for the difference in critical response. Despite all the current reviews that treat Le mépris as if it were some form of serene classical art, it’s every bit as transgressive now as it was when it first appeared, and maybe more so. But because it’s being packaged as an art movie rather than a mainstream release — because Godard is a venerable master of 66 rather than an unruly upstart of 33 — we have different expectations.… Read more »

A Matter of Life and Death: A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Written for the 40th anniversary issue of the French quarterly magazine Trafic (Winter 2011). I subsequently introduced a screening of this film at the Centre Georges Pompidou on January 12, 2012 as part of a film series built around this issue, and my introduction (in French and English) can be accessed on video here.  — J.R.

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Am I weeping for the death of David’s mother, for the death of humans, for the death of photography, or for the death of movies?

James Naremore, On Kubrick

 

 

The scene in question, the final one in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, features a robot boy, David (Haley Joel Osment), and a cloned duplication of a human woman, Monica (Frances O’Connor), who died centuries before and whom David was still earlier programmed by Monica to love as a mother. These characters are shown going to bed together and falling asleep, the robot for the first time and Monica for the last time, after spending a happy day together. This is an experience of orgasmic closure and extinction afforded to David by sympathetic extraterrestials visiting Earth who have found him frozen in ice long after mankind has perished, and have searched his memory for cinematic images of his life that they share among themselves and then reproduce in actuality.… Read more »

André Delvaux’s Buried Treasures

This was written in late 2012 and early 2013 for Film Comment, but this magazine’s editor loves to improvise the contents of every issue at the last moment, and this article had already been edited, scheduled, and then pulled from two separate issues. For me, it had currency and some immediacy because of the release of a Delvaux box set in Belgium; from the editor’s more land-locked Manhattan perspective, it could be published any time without making much difference. Rather than run the risk of this delay happening a third or even fourth time over the remainder of that year, and because I believed that jonathanrosenbaum.com may have had a larger readership than Film Comment anyway, I decided to make a last-minute editorial decision of my own and posted it there, originally in April 2013. (Like all my other texts, it subsequently got transferred here half a year later, at jonathanrosenbaum.net.)   — J.R.

Part of the strength of André Delvaux (1926-2002) as a filmmaker is that, like the otherwise very different Samuel Fuller and Jacques Tati, he was already pushing 40 when he directed his first feature — having by then studied music, German philology, and the law, and also taught Germanic languages and literature before he became a pioneer in teaching film at Belgian state schools, where Chantal Akerman and Hitler in Hollywoods Frédéric Sojcher (who has written a short book on Delvaux) were among his pupils, meanwhile playing piano to accompany silent films at the Brussels Cinémathèque.… Read more »

Hollywood Unchained [SPARTACUS]

From the May 10, 1991 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

SPARTACUS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Dalton Trumbo

With Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, and John Ireland.

“It has acres of dead people, more blood and gore than you ever saw in your whole life.

“In the final scene, Spartacus’s mistress, carrying her illegitimate baby, passes along the Appian Way with 6,000 crucified men on crosses.

“That story was sold to Universal from a book written by a Commie and the screen script was written by a Commie, so don’t go to see it.”

Despite these dire warnings from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper — and another from the American Legion, which sent a letter to its 17,000 local posts urging people to boycott the movie — Spartacus, released in 1960 and reportedly the most expensive movie ever shot in Hollywood, eventually turned a profit. It was even the top money-maker of 1962 after it went into general release — thereby, I suppose, making Commie symps of all of us who went to see it. It was the Kennedy era, and the blood and gore on view were pretty tame by today’s standards; for the record, the number of crucified men — rebel slaves — while high, is a good bit shy of 6,000.… Read more »